Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

The Turkey Awards, Inaugural Edition

It’s that time of year again. We commemorate Pilgrims (code word: “Puritans”) who supposedly shared a turkey dinner with Native Americans before they banished them from their land and doomed them to the eternal fate of caricatured logos for sports teams and cigar stores. So in honor of such blatantly celebrated misanthropy, we bring you our first edition of the Turkey Awards — in recognition of all that is lowdown in our industry.

Just so you know, nobody likes a feel-good story more than me. I really did cry when Ol’ Yeller died. I look for good news every day. As they say in Missouri, “Show Me”. I’m all eyes and ears. But I’m not easily fooled by all the wolves in sheep’s clothing who have hopped on the Cause/Environmentalist/Phony Baloney Bandwagon. Maybe I’m naive, but I find it hard to believe that tire and carpet manufacturers, for instance, can make credible sustainability claims. Or that any QSR chain can credibly align themselves with any health initiative, whether it’s breast cancer or whatever. They manufacture death. It’s like the old subliminal messages in beer and cigarette ads — except there is nothing subliminal about them. You’d think some of these charities would tell our robber baron companies to bug off and “we don’t really want your blood money”.

This was the most hostile politically charged election year in history. Why? Well, beyond the actual politics of the candidates — media has enabled any cracker with political ambition and an HD camcorder to become a creative director. So we’ll begin the inaugural edition of the Turkey with the worst of a very bad lot. These are the lowest of the low, the bottom of the barrel, the seeds and stems, the outhouse of our industry. And we proudly bring them to you. Mikey, roll the tape.

Clinging Scoundrel Turkey — Let’s start with the worst commercial of the year, political or otherwise. One that supports violating our constitutional rights — and our true freedoms (all in the name of “freedom”, though). Don’t get me started on the war on terrorism. We lost that one in 32 minutes nine years ago. Anyway, enjoy this spot — it’s what happens when you put patriotism in the wrong hands.

Turkey Farmer — Let’s go right to the most notorious ad of the year. This guy  in Alabama scares me. And he ran for Agricultural Commissioner. The last thing you want to do is piss this guy off — he’s liable to spray Agent Orange on your crops. Go ahead, make my day.

Uncle TurkeyOkay, I’ve got to admit, I laughed at the next spot. The visual is pretty funny, Uncle Sam as a profligate pig. It’s so ironic, it warrants an honorable mention. You are what you eat, and we eat a lot of humble pie.

Turkey Jingles 1 and 2 Let’s exit the political arena with a song, well, actually two songs. Here’s two candidates with their own jingles (can we say they are “jingle-istic” patriots?). How blatantly gratuitous (and therefore condescending) to the youth and minority vote can you get? Take a look at Mike Weinstein, doesn’t he look like a hip dude? Isn’t that tune rockin’? I bet he smoked pot once.

Hold on, I need to jump in the shower, I’ve got all this sleaze all over me — be right back.

Okay, let’s move on to the to the Private Sector. There’s plenty to be ashamed of outside the political arena.

Shoo Turkey, Shoo —  Skechers is a pretty cool shoe brand. Well at least I thought so until I saw this spot. Can somebody say, “disconnect?”. Enjoy this one, it’s awful.

No Flo Zone Turkey — Flo from Progressive Insurance? Come on. Do we really need to dumb down dumb? Isn’t dumb dumb enough? We don’t need to show the link — she’s ubiquitous. You know her and you hate her. How can testing produce this kind of spokesperson?

Souse Grouse If drinking Svedka Vodka makes me act like this, then I will definitely need another drink. Thank you.

Turkey SushiOkay, we know them as a Japanese car company for the consumer who lacks the need to drive a pretentious vehicle. And I know this is a dealer spot and not a brand spot (I admire that there is any concept at all, actually). But forgive me if I don’t recognize the  connection between this “Paparazzi” spot and Honda‘s target.

Singing Turkeys–Time for another song. Although this is not a jingle — it’s an opera. A really bad opera at that. Where’s Pete Townsend when you need him? Try not to spew your stuffing and gravy over this one.

That’s enough Bad TV for one post. Let’s move on to the new frontier, Digital. Everyone talks about Social Media like it’s the salve that heals all marketing wounds. The good news about Digital? It’s viral. The bad new? It’s viral. If you run a bad spot, or a controversial print ad — you can just pull it — you’ll get some bad press, along with the requisite bad karma and in a few weeks — it all goes away. But if you fuck up Social Media, you’ve created a monster that might not ever die — it will take on a life of its own.

Chocolate Turkey Get a load of Nestle’s foray into Facebook, a cautionary tale for the Media Socialists.

Epcot TurkeysJust so you know that the US of A doesn’t corner the market on Social blunders, here are the five worst International Social Media Campaigns.

So, that’s about all I can handle for one post. There’s so many Dishonorable Mentions that we could post from now until New Year’s Eve, but we need to put a governor on this exercise. Have a Happy, y’all.

Friday:  The Sporting Scene continues with its very own Turkey Awards

On Writers, Part II

The Elements of Style

Due to the popularity of the post, “On Writers, Copywriting and How to Build a Portfolio”, I’ve decided to continue on the theme. Of my 38 posts, it’s been the most heavily re-tweeted. So we’ll give our readership more of what it seems to want.

Yes, writers are a peculiar and dwindling lot. Without writers, what would we read? Lately, I’ve taken to buying and reading books on my iPad. I just finished, Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It To the Revolution. And I’m now beginning the new Mickey Mantle book by Jane Leavy. Neither book is terrifically well-written; nor riveting. The subjects are interesting and occasionally fascinating but the prose itself lacks a certain craft — a style. This reminded me that we are not to confuse topical or entertaining content with good writing.

As Auden said so well, “It is the duty of the writer to make language new” (I know, I beat that line into the ground, but it’s the best one I’ve ever heard about writing). I didn’t understand this at first. Or, I understood it on an academically superficial level. But, when I first read Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City in the mid-80’s, I finally grasped what Auden meant. It reminded me of Kerouac, in that each page was exciting — not so much for the narrative — but for the language and the style. When a great narrative meets original style, you have a masterpiece, like The Great Gatsby. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It can be an essay (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”) or journalism. Actually, one of the most compelling works I’ve ever read is the Unabomber’s Manifesto. Revolutionaries make great writers — I regularly read Fidel Castro’s weekly column, Reflections.

Strunk & White have taken a lot of hits. Long dismissed by the high-waisted, khaki-wearing academic set as “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice” — yet, just the title itself, The Elements of Style, strikes a chord in me. It begs the question, “What makes a writer a good writer?” I keep going back to Auden’s quote, but that too lacks instructiveness. Sure, Dylan can write songs, but what makes them good lyrically? What makes Howard Gossage special? What makes an Updike novel an Updike novel? Well, it’s the same thing that made Twiggy a sensation, and Jackie O an institution: STYLE.

How does one define style, then?  That’s a bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle (eek, what a cliché!). That’s like trying to describe the color red to a blind person (there you go! make language new). Or diagramming a play for Julius Erving. Style repels definition — it relies on grace, color detail and description. These are some of the elements of style — but they are not style itself. Style is distinctively original and inimitable (yet entire industries thrive by mimicking it). You can write like Bob Dylan, but you can never be Bob Dylan.

Narcissistic writers reveal themselves — their verbosity overwhelms the narrative, or the lyric, or the ad. Don’t confuse description with verbosity. Even if you are a walking thesaurus, you are still not a gifted, stylish writer. You just have a good memory. That will get you through college, but it won’t win you the Pulitzer prize — or even a One Show Pencil. Style derives from acumen and attention to detail. It is learned in diners and train stations. It is acquired through experience by reading, listening, observing. Writing style begins with a sensitivity to the human spirit and condition. Writers look at the world differently. They extract meaning from the mundane. They distill amazement from the minutiae. This is why they are often monikered as “eclectic” — as if they don’t fit in to society.

To illustrate the point of verbosity versus description, let’s take a quick look at Bruce Springsteen’s writing. His first three albums are verbose beyond immediate assimilation. Clearly, a young, ambitious (and somewhat narcissistic) writer trying really hard (maybe too hard) to be a poet. I like some of those songs, they’re good. But with his next three albums, he grew as a poet and did what all great writers learn to do: SAY MORE WITH LESS. He became a reductionist. He made language new. Darkness On the Edge of Town, The River, and Nebraska, with their minimalist, austere and stripped-down lyrics are works of a disciplined writer. I’m not knocking the first three records, but it’s instructive to see how the writer evolved from an ebullient romantic to a disciplined realist. In short, writing is not typing. It’s typing and editing and reducing.

What does all this have to do with advertising? I read a lot of “agency positioning” stuff. Everyone seems to have a new tag line for their agency: “Rethink Everything”, “The Factory”, “Brand Storytellers”, “Ideas for the New Whatever”. Yada. My favorite agency tag line is 84 years old, McCann-Erickson’sTruth Well Told”. This captures my point in 3 words more accurately than this entire post (talk about verbosity, Palma!). It’s not the content, or the concept, for that matter, that is king — it’s the WAY agencies tell the story that brings value to brands and clients. Yes, we need a good story, just like Updike needs a good narrative. But, what makes Updike Updike is the way he tells his story. Many a great ad concept died from failure to tell the story compellingly.

I hear so much stuff from or about writers these days — “digital writer”, “heavy broadcast writer”, “conceptual writer”, etc.. How about just being a WRITER? Write something I want to read — something that entertains, or educates, or motivates, or inspires, or gives me goosebumps, or makes me laugh or cry. If you can do that, you are a writer.

Can Bob Dylan Fight? The answer, my friend, is…

Catfish Squares Off With a Legend

I’ve been fortunate to have placed about 1,200 talented people with creative agencies. One of my very favorites is Daniel “Catfish” Russ. Daniel has been a finalist on that television show Star Search; he’s been a stand-up comic on the comedy club circuit; he’s played the blues harp in the Texas blues bar scene; he’s a black belt in karate; he’s also been a boxer.  Somehow in all that, he’s had time to be a brilliant creative; authoring well-known campaigns for Pennzoil, Wal-Mart, The Air Force and Las Vegas Tourism.  There’s nobody quite like Daniel. On a recent visit to Austin, I connected with him and we sat by the river in Adirondack chairs to enjoy a Cuban cigar and a Single Malt scotch whiskey. What I love most about Daniel is that he’s an incredible storyteller. He never fails to amaze. All I had to do was mention the name Bob Dylan and out flowed this story — which  I’ve asked him to re-create for mikepalma.com:

Sparring With Dylan

By Daniel Russ

“April 2008. I am trying to figure out what to do next with my life. I have spare time and head to Richard Lord’s Boxing Gym on  Lamar Boulevard in a stinky old warehouse behind a Goodwill. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, the sky is dark and cloudy and no one is there.

DownloadedFile-2I lift the warehouse garage door entrance, sign in on a moribund clipboard on an old nightstand stuffed into the corner. Richard Lord was a fairly successful welterweight boxer who opened this gym many years ago, and like all real boxing gyms, it is never clean, nor is it  ever cleaned. Unwashed hand wraps redolent of the years of sweat and grit hang from clothes lines. Ten heavy bags in varying sizes, many with the stuffing literally beat out of them and then duct taped back in hang wherever they fit. There are two twenty by twenty-foot rings, the ropes loose and sloping, the canvas spattered with dried blood and God knows what else.

The walls are covered in Boxing posters. Ali vs Frazier, Foreman vs. Moore, Jesus “El Matador” Chavez vs. Johnson. I head to the speed bag wall, pump a little air into a bag, turn on the electric bell that gives you a signal for the beginning and end of a three  minute round and one minute rest. The bell rings and  I start bouncing the bag off the top board.

After a few rounds, in comes Richard Lord. Skinny, mustachioed, and kind as the day is long. “Heeeeeey maaaaaaan….whar you been?” We hug. “Vegas man,” I tell him. “But we’re back.” “Hey man, glove up.”

“Me? Dude, I’m in my fifties. I don’t fight anymore.”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “This guy don’t have much. In fact, don’t even hit him. I mean not at all… just move around.”

Oh shit, I think. This guy better have nothing because I haven’t sparred in years. When I hung up the gloves and decided never to fight again, I swore I would not become one of those ghost guys I saw in Boxing gyms my whole life. The guys that can’t accept that they aren’t 18 anymore. The guys in their forties who get hit too often — their noses flatter and fatter, their ears begin to change shape, old cuts scar over, and regularly get bested by 18 year olds. Like I did when I was 18.

I wrap my hands. I jump rope to warm up. I dig out my battered caked-with-dust mouthpiece, rinse it off in a bathroom sink that looked like it was stolen from an old country gas station. I shove it in. It feels foreign. I have not had a mouthpiece in almost a decade, it makes me gag.

A few minutes later four people come in, all dressed in loose-fitting workout gear. Two guys and a woman. I look at the guys trying to figure out which one has nothing to hit me with. Frankly, neither of them looked like they could hurt me. A woman comes in. They all chat quietly and start digging out hand wraps.

In comes a diminutive, skinny man. Looks to be a little older than me, has short curly hair. He turns to face me.

It’s Bob Dylan.

BobDylanRollingBajaOK. I stopped bouncing around. Stop trying to get my heart rate up. I stare out the warehouse door into a now-rainy parking lot. I am trying to process this. I am about to step into a boxing ring with a man who I have idolized as long as I have had ears.

Richard walks over. “See what I mean?” he says.

“Richard,” I tell him. “If you paid me by the shot, I wouldn’t hit this guy….EVER.”

“Good,” he says. “Don’t. Just move around.”

We step in the ring. He does not look at me. There is no conversation. The round bell goes off. He’s old and tiny but he makes his way to the center of the ring, throws a series of jabs that don’t reach. Neither does his right. He throws a hook. I take it on my arm. I dance around, slip left and right. Before I knew it, the round bell rang.

DownloadedFile-1Dylan goes back into his corner. Richard mouths some advice to him. The next round begins. Apparently the advice was to throw more hooks. They all miss or they land on my right arm. I’m just dancing around. Every once in a while, I get into a cat crouch and lean in so he can land shots. He hits me on the forehead with a straight right. Pretty good shot. Bell rings. Second round is over

“Thanks,” Richard says. “That’s all Catfish. Thanks.”

No Richard. Thank YOU, I think to myself. I finish my workout. I go home and try not to wash my right arm or forehead for the rest of my life. In May of 2008 I succumb and finally wash Bob Dylan off me.

I tell you, Austin makes Vegas look like a booger.

Thanks Daniel. Stories are all we have. Stories connect us, define us. The world needs more good storytellers. History is a story, it just depends on who gets to tell DownloadedFileit.

Here’s good story about a boxer, as told by Bob Dylan: